Friday, August 26, 2011

Why Nova Scotia?

When Julie and I finished up our first year in Abu Dhabi, we had the opportunity to go practically anywhere in the world. We're next door to a host of Asian countries; Africa's not that far; and there's so many European countries we'd love to visit while on this side of the world. It would have been easier and cheaper to visit almost any part of the world other than Nova Scotia. So, why spend all that time and money (especially when the US Dollar is taking such a beating) going someplace we'd already been? It had only been a year, why not push back the visit to Canada just a little more and do something new? These are good questions.

There's really only one answer.

We visited Nova Scotia for the people. While we were there we had some great visits with friends and family and that was a great comfort to us. In many cases it felt like we had never left, and had we not had a departure date looming over us, it would have been easy to pick up right where we left off.

No doubt, the highlight of the whole experience was Miranda's baptism on August 14th. It's always nice to go out on a high note, and I don't know how we could have left on any note higher. There were so many people who came to share in the experience and we were grateful for the love we felt and the desire to share

This is the point in the blog where I would post some of the great pictures we took during our last few days in Nova Scotia. There were pictures with grandparents and friends. We had some great shots from the last day of swimming lessons and, of course, Miranda's baptism. But we lost those pictures along with the camera and computer. It could have been worse. I might not have kept the blog and we would have lost everything. Things could always be worse. But ultimately, we didn't go for the pictures, and the relationships we renewed and strengthened will endure longer than any souvenir we might have brought back. Sure, the trip ended up costing us a lot more than we had planned, but it was still worth it.
Miranda at the Temple on her special day. Eight years old already.

The kids with Grandma, Grandpa and Miley on the morning of our departure. I was able to find enough of a
break in the tears to get this one.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Some thoughts on loss

For those of you who are Facebook friends, you’ve already learned about my loss (side note, facebook is a great place to go if you’re looking for instant comfort from a fairly large group of people also, on facebook you only have to recount your painful experience once and move on). If you haven’t been frequenting the Facebook, let me quote my entry:

Sitting in Chicago O'Hare wondering if I should mourn the loss of all my electronics collectively or individually. Oh MacBook pro, there was still so much I had wanted to do with you. iPad, I should have done more than play Angry Birds on you. I know that now. Canon, a summer with you wasn't enough and Kindle, even though you will be replaced, it wll never be the same.

How do I articulate this experience in a way that conveys the genuine pain and sense of betrayal I’ve felt as losing some pretty valuable nifty gadgets. I’ve never had anything major stolen from me in my life. I lost a couple of cheap in-dash stereos while we were living in Arizona, but apart from that, we’ve never had a break-in, never been mugged, nor have we every been the victims of identity theft or Internet fraud. When you go through life insulated from some of the seedier elements of civilization, it’s pretty easy to have a generally favorable view of one’s fellow man. I’ve always said that most people are good, that most people, when given an opportunity to do the right thing, will do it. It’s harder to maintain that perspective when confronted with the minority who don’t do the right thing, but, you know, I still believe it, in part because of how people have treated me upon learning of my loss, but mostly I still believe it because I want to believe it.

We discovered the loss while we were standing around the parking lot of the car rental place. Needless to say, I panicked. In that moment of realization, I believed that what I had lost was irreplaceable. I was overwhelmed by both the financial and emotional cost and I have to say I didn’t take it well. My wife said that she’s seen me angry (plenty of times), and she’s seen me sullen (plenty of times too), but she had never seen me feeling so helpless and distraught before. I’m sorry my kids had to see it happen; however, I think there are some advantages to seeing one’s dad as human.

 It’s not necessarily a bad thing to find yourself in a situation beyond your control. It teaches you humility, and it teaches you to rely on others. The guy in front of me looked like the smartphone kind of guy and I asked him if he could look up the number to the hotel and let me call. He wasn’t having any luck finding it. Unasked, the lady behind me started to do the same and offered me her phone while I called. There are good people out there, and I believe most people want to help if they can. Comfort can be found in the company of strangers.

I called the hotel and told them that my bag had been left in the parking lot. They went and looked around for it, but there was nothing to be found. All of it was gone.

The Inventory of my bag as far as I can remember:
Canon S95 and my very cool gorilla tripod
Ipad and the spiffy new Ipad Keyboard I had just bought the day before.
MacBook Pro
Ipod Nano
A couple of memory cards
Julie’s Cell Phone
A Moleskine Notebook with a couple of really good story ideas (I think I can remember them all)
Luggage scale
Thor: The Mighty Avenger Volumes 1 and 2 (I was pretty happy to find both of those at Borders during their closing out sale. In some ways I’m most ticked off at losing those. I was really looking forward to reading them on the plane. It’s kind of funny the things we fixate on.)

Fortunately we still had our little Ipod touch and the Boston Airport offered free Internet access, so we were able to change some key password details and hopefully circumvent any future issues with identity theft or financial risk. Most importantly, all of our cash and travel documents—passports and birth certificates were safely tucked away in my nifty travel wallet. It took a lot of reflection and no small amount of prayer, but In the end, I don’t feel like I lost anything I couldn’t afford to lose.

I can’t imagine how tempting it might have been for someone to discover such a treasure trove in one place. I’m not angry with the person who took it. I don’t know their situation, nor do I know their intentions. I do feel a certain amount of pity for the person who is in such a place where they either feel they need to steal or their hearts have become so hardened by choice and circumstance that they feel no remorse over the pain or discomfort they might cause another. A heart hardened to the suffering of others is a heart hardened to everything. Empathy is necessary to feel love for others and to feel the love others have for you. At the end of the day, I can replace what’s been lost, but that person who took it will have a much more difficult time recovering from the loss in their life.

Let me be clear, as much as I lament the replacement cost of those things, what irks me more is the loss of some very dear pictures, especially the pictures we took at Miranda’s baptism. Most of the other stuff on the computer was backed up, and sure it’ll be a pain to go through all of my accounts to change passwords and protect my identity, but even that is, at most, an inconvenience.

We will be getting a new computer soon, an iMac instead of an MacBook this time—much more difficult to lose or leave behind, and eventually we may replace the iPad or get one of those nifty new MacBook Airs, but that won’t be for some time yet. As far as the camera’s concerned, I’m really glad that we bought it, but my Nikon SLR still works pretty well and I can’t say I see the need to get a new point and shoot anytime soon. The Kindle will be missed, but we’ve got a few dozen books lying around the apartment and, even though I had pretty much turned my back on paper, it’s really the story that matters most. No doubt I’ll get a new Kindle some time down the road, but for now, it’s far from a need.

We’ve already replaced Julie’s phone and getting her phone number back couldn’t have been easier
So, in the end, no big deal, right? Well, yes and no. Even though I’ve come to terms with the stuff that was lost, I believe that the experience of losing it could, potentially, be life changing. In some ways it feels kind of silly and trivial to talk about this as a life changing experience, but I think it could radically alter the course of my life, but only if I choose to let it. As I’ve said, it would be an easy thing to replace all the items I lost on that day. It’s not that I’m flush with cash, but I’ve got enough saved up that we could find a way to make it work. I had done a back-up just before we left for Nova Scotia, so apart from the pictures I had taken while we were away, we’ve got most of that stuff at our disposal. I can’t help but be grateful that I had been so diligent about blogging while we were away because most of the key pictures we had taken are safely stored on the Internet (However, I am sad that the photo of me and my mutton chops will only be seen by the people in possession of my computer). Any moment can be a life changing moment if you choose to let it change you, and that’s what I’m doing. I am choosing to have this loss refocus my efforts in the areas that matter most to me. My facebook entry was a little tongue and cheek like a facebook posting needs to be, but it was pretty clear to me that I had used most of those gadgets as diversions instead of what I said I needed them for.
It’s like people who say they subscribe to cable for the Discovery Channel and the History Channel, but spend most of their time watching reality celebrity shows on E!.  I told myself and everyone else that I needed these things for my writing, but ultimately I used the technology to while away the hours watching useless youtube clips or endlessly searching for any details I could find about the new Avengers movie coming out next summer. The iPad was a toy for me (as it is for most) and I wasted more time browsing the Internet casually or flinging Angry Birds at thieving pigs. I was not making the most of the tool within my possession. I was not making the most of my time. I have been living beneath my potential.

An early member of our church said, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility….It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to require.”
I’m sure he was referring to greater tragedies than what I’ve suffered, but I still take comfort from the sentiment. The key for me in this moment of minor crisis is to make the lessons learned more valuable than the stuff that was lost. It will take some time and effort, but I believe I can use this experience to enrich my life and the lives of those around me, it’s just up to me to figure out how.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Monday to Friday--Trying to ignore the sound of that ticking clock

This last week was full with filling our luggage. We had left behind a fair bit of stuff and worked at trying to fit it all into our luggage. The problem with going so long without certain items is that one comes to realize how little one actually needs or wants them. So, it was with no shortage of ambivalence that I stuffed duffle bags with books and DVDs that may or may not get read in the coming years. Oh well. One thing that we left behind towards which there is absolutely no ambivalence is our lego collection. Collection may be a little imprecise when talking about a thirty pound bin of odds and ends, but Legos are not cheap in Abu Dhabi and our children have lamented more than once over the past year about not having the perfect piece for one of their constructions.

Monday night I went out to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes with a couple of friends of mine. I had to leave Liam behind because he still had some school to finish up with.I really wanted to take him along, but abandoning him was the responsible thing. Sometimes being a Dad is no fun at all.

Liam really pulled out all the stops, Julie too, to finish up with his schooling for the year. He pulled an all nighter on Thursday (Julie did too) and was finally able to really enjoy his summer starting Friday.

Did I delegate lulling James to sleep to Grandma? Yup.

Not a lot of sun for swim lessons, but lot's of fun!

Do I look homeless? That's what Liam says.
Thursday morning was spent tutoring Dad in a few computer related areas. Thursday afternoon was more packing and swim lessons. Thursday night we went down to the Hamachi Steakhouse for a great Japanese dinner (and show). It was Miranda's birthday dinner and we were all glad that Grandma and Grandpa invited us along for the celebrations.

Friday was a full one. More packing in the morning. Then Julie and I had a great visit with our friends Rory, Sarah, Gail and Joe. The basic theme of the afternoon was, "Things aren't perfect in Abu Dhabi, but it is pretty great. Please come back with us." Not sure how well we sold the experience, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

While we were lunching, Grandma, Lucy, Miranda and James were off to, a new favourite place in Halifax. We discovered it just before we left and as you can see from the pictures below, the kids were pretty happy we happened upon it. Grandma put her sewing expertise to work for James, but Lucy and Miranda pretty much constructed their sock monkeys from scratch.

My, what pretty eyes you have.

It was a rush to get to the pool for swim lessons, but we made it. It was a pretty novel experience Friday because the sun actually made an appearance.

James' newfound bravery around water is a little disconcerting.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I thought we were going to take it easy for the last couple of weeks

Julie and the kids were able to spend some time visiting with her good friend Beth. I spent some time on computer tutor duty with Dad. He's got a list of things he'd like to be able to do, and I actually think I may be able to help him with that. Liam is down to the wire with home school. Tennis lessons had to be missed, but Liam was very understanding. I've been really impressed with what he's been able to accomplish this summer. Now, we just need to figure out how generate those levels of productivity during the actual school year.

Julie spent two nights with the Pillings children. The parents were away and had asked us to check in on them. James was happy to have a sleepover with his friend Chaim and Liam enjoyed his time with his friend Mason. After spending some time visitng and playing games both evenings, I opted out of spending the night for some solitude and uninterrupted reading time back at my Dad's. It's a little selfish, I know, but Julie's forgiven me already, I think.

Saturday morning we spent at the temple and then we rushed over with Dad and Ellen to see Shakespeare by the Sea's "Robin Hood." If you've got a chance to see it, you've really got to go. I've enjoyed all of their productions, but this one was the most polished family show that I've seen them do. It didn't hurt to watch the show on one of the few good weather days we've experienced since coming to Nova Scotia. I actually had to put sunblock on, a first for this summer.


Who's that pretty lady?

Saturday night we went with Dad, Ellen and Jessica to MacAskill's for dinner. A trip to Nova Scoia wouldn't be complete without at least one visit to the restaurant. The food was great, and it was nice to have a little bit of grown up time. It's the little things you appreciate like being able to have an entire conversation without having to explain the meaning of a single word or idiom.
Yup, I need a haircut.

Sunday started early and didn't stop until well after sundown. At church we're still getting the "Are you guys still here?" looks. It's like people are hanging on to their goodbyes and can't wait to get them over with. The afternoon was spent at the Pinsents. You might think that taking four kids over to a house with even more kids might result in an incredible level of chaos, but after we ate, all the children vanished and were not heard from until it was time to go. It might be a little unsettling if the peace and quiet were not so well appreciated.

In the evening, Dad had Ruth and Murray Wright for dinner. We've always enjoyed their company and the love they've shown our children. We had a great visit over a fantastic meal. We were also treated to quite the humming bird display.

One of our guests for dinner.

By the time the Wrights left, we were pretty much done for the day, but we had invited the Glanfields over so I could continue my Settlers of Catan winning streak. The dice were not in my favor. Grandma joined in for her first Settlers game and soundly cleaned up.
Lucy being told she can't play.

Us playing. Wait! How did Lucy get there?

I like to think that we've done a pretty good job at visiting with friends and family. Sure, we'd like to spend more time with people, but I am a firm believer in the George Constanza principle of "Leave them wanting more." There were a few times when I felt like we were verging on the point of overstaying our welcome, but for the most part we've spent just enough time with people to remind them about all the things they like about us without bringing up some of our less than desirable traits.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Whales and Weather

The weekend was recuperative. We were able to get our bearings. Jessica came with us to Cowboys and Aliens, a movie experience that was perfectly summed up by its title. I had a great time (I will never see it again), and Julie was looking for a little more camp. It did take itself very seriously, but that's one of the things I liked about it. Jessica came back for a second night so that we could all be up early for the Natal Day race Monday morning. We had a good visit and broke out her copy of Blockus 3D which, I'm sad to say, tested our balancing skills more than our ability to strategize. Stick with the classic and you'll do just fine.

Monday morning was race day. Now the plan was to register for the Natal Day race right after we arrived and then train for a month leading up to it. Julie did OK with getting out and running. I, on the other hand, went for a total of three short runs which could hardly be labelled as training. Lucy had two practice runs and Liam went for one (though he has been playing tennis quite regularly).

We're all winners (see the medals!)

The Bay of Fundy. Don't mind those clouds.

James on the Ferry to Long Island (second shortest Ferry ride)

"Yes, James, we're still going on the boat."
The problem with registering early for a race like that is that everyone can see that you've registered. Even though I know the whole world isn't looking at my name and wondering if I'm really going to go through with it, it feels that way (just like it feels that the whole world might very well be reading my blog even though intellectually I know I have a readership that I could comfortable count on one hand). So the world-- that's a lot of pressure to do something you're not really ready for.

It was only two miles, but two miles for someone as out of shape as I felt was a little daunting. I had one goal: not to be last. It wasn't much of a goal, but after seeing some of the participants, it felt achievable. I wasn't last, but I was a far cry from first. I am happy to say that I wasn't incapacitated by the run and I feel like I've got a sense of what I want to shoot for down the line in terms of speed and distance. The best part of the race was the fact that Jessica and Grandma were there along with us. You really can go further and faster if you feel like you're not alone.

The rest of the day was spent avoiding weather forecasts and packing for our gettaway with Grandma and Grandpa. After swimming lessons, we drove down to Digby. After spending nearly twenty hours in the car late last week, I have to say that our kids did very well with the trip.

Tuesday morning we were greeted with thunder and lightening, but the captain of the whale cruise we had booked assured us that we would be going out that afternoon. So after a brief driving tour of Digby (a brief tour is really all you need), we made the long drive down Digby neck looking for breaks in the clouds the whole way there. It's funny the things you cling to when faced with the inevitable. We then took the ferry to Long Island and drove the length of it. The storm was getting worse, and by the time we had made it to the dock, the tour had been pushed back an hour. No problem, we'll just have lunch at the restaurant on the shore, only the cook hasn't shown up because of the weather. Not a good sign. So we drive back to the other side of the island to see about some food, still clinging to the hope of a whale cruise in the afternoon. It was not to be. James summed it up best when he said, "Nova Scotia winters are soggy!"

What do you mean there's no food?

I couldn't help but think as I watched the rain pour down and the lightening cascade along the horizon that it would make for a more interesting blog post than a sunny day at the park. Weather in Nova Scotia can be a bit of a mixed bag, but so far it hasn't really impeded what we've planned on doing. Time's starting to get a little short now and the need for the cooperation of the elements is a little more critical. Originally, we were going to try and go to Upper Clements Park, but we universally agreed that Whale Watching was the priority. My kids took the cancellation in stride.

Yes, it is four in the afternoon, and yes, everyone
is in pyjamas.

The storm broke later that evening which gave us just enough time to walk along the docks of Digby. After asking around, we learned that apart from walks along the dock and eating great seafood, there's not much to do in Digby. It was then that I became very grateful for my Netflix streaming account. We crowded around Grandma's computer with some pizza and watched Ramona and Beezus, a family film that was much better than it should have been. Highly recommended.

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After a good night's sleep we were off again down the Digby neck. There was no lightening, which was a good sign, but there wasn't a hint of blue sky either. I'm sure there was more than one prayer muttered along the way.

Before the cruise, we stopped off to see the famous balancing rock. There is a trail on Long Island that on a nice day would have been a bit of a walk. After the storms of the day before, however, it was an actual wilderness hike. The trail had become flooded at certain points which turned some of our party around, but Lucy forged on, and, as her Dad, I felt a bit of an obligation to follow. Grandpa, Liam, and Mom also took up the challenge. I will say that it was a trip worth the squishy feet we had to contended with the rest of the day.


We then had a hurried lunch and were off to sea. Even though the skies were grey and the weather was worhty of winter coats, our aftenoon on the ocean was definitely one of the highlights of our summer. It's hard to find the words to describe what we saw. Even the pictures can't give you a sense of what it was like to be so close to such magnificent creatures.

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"People keep taking pictures of me because I'm cute, right?"

Liam at work!
We had a long drive home that was broken up by a visit to Swiss Chalet (yep, Sarah, you may be able to ship Dad down to Texas for a month, but the only way you'll ever get to enjoy that succulent chicken and ribs, not to mention those heavenly fries, is to actually come here and visit). Miley was very excited to see James when we came through the door and James had slept enough in the car to not feel the need to go straight to bed.

We were so glad to have gone, but being able to share the trip with Grandma and Grandpa made the experience better in every possible way. We are so grateful for all that they did to prepare for the trip and, more importantly, for the time we were able to spend with them.